Monday, December 7, 2015

The rise of the indigenous conflict photographer

   I have long wanted to be a conflict photographer. As a young teen, I was fascinated by the images of Larry Burrows, Robert Cappa, and James Natchway. To join the ranks of this small group of intrepid storytellers, traveling the globe hell-bent on bringing truth to the masses would be a dream come true.  I still toy with the idea of just rolling the dice and boarding a plane bound for what was once the cradle of human civilization in order to cover some of the most uncivilized human behavior since the days of the Christian Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition.  As I am no longer employed by Getty Images, I would have to fund my own trip and go it alone, simply as a freelancer and all that that entails; which is one big handful of danger.

Image by Iraqi photojournalist Ahmad Al - Rubaye
Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan are seeing fewer and fewer foreign journalists and photojournalist covering these conflict zones.  Previously considered a necessary apprenticeship in the young career of any seriously minded budding photojournalist, the dangers are now just too great, the risks too high. The many highly publicized beheadings of western journalists by ISIS etc. has definitely put the fear of God into even the most seasoned shooters.  The major dailies and big magazines like Time and Newsweek etc. are no longer sending staffers to the aforementioned hot spots. Thus all the slack is being picked up by locally born freelancers. Yes, it is largely a self-taught indigenous population, often with a kit consisting of nothing more than the latest i phone who are doing all the heavy lifting.  It is through their bravery and what is a fierce desire for the world to know what is happening within the borders of their beloved homelands that these images are making their way back to the west on a regular basis.

 As a long time student of World History and foreign affairs and as a budding photojournalist myself, I have always made it a practice to look at photo credits.  It is now hard not to notice the number of  Persian or Arab names that can be found next to almost all photo credits coming out of the aforementioned conflict zones.  The brave inhabitants of these countries are desperate to have their stories broadcast worldwide thus they are willing to put their lives literally and figuratively on the front lines in order to document the reality of the horrors unfolding before them.  Often the monetary compensation for their efforts is akin to exploitation, but they remain undeterred as money is not their prime motivator, truth is.  Thus they head out each and every day in search of chronicling only truth The very reality which has led to the complete obliteration of entire cities, the residents are now literally held hostage within the ruins of the crumbling buildings which surround them at every turn.  Often without running water, food, proper medical care, or even a safe place to lay their head when night falls, the lack of electricity shrouds the multitudes of humanity in a cloak of unholy darkness each and every night.  It is at such times that these poor souls must feel so very alone and abandoned by all, perhaps even by almighty God!

Many of the educated populace who live in the hell holes of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria have become journalists by proxy; as a result of their overwhelming need to have the world understand their daily struggle. They have come to document their surroundings with an insight often not possibly understandable to those from foreign lands where the stench of death is something you never really experience and thus never get used to.. ...Death is no stranger to these conscripted storytellers of this new journalistic era.  They have been drafted into their roles and as such,
 they bring with them a perspective that we westerners will never understand and God help us if we ever do get to a point in our own society where we are forced to learn such terrible lessons.

Who knows what my future holds?  I still might just throw my hat into the ring?  I really don’t have that much to lose when it really comes down to it.  It is a very worthy cause to be sure and it could get me back with Getty again or an equivalent agency?   Somehow this does not seem like a worthy enough cause to join the ranks of these courageous folk.  I would frankly feel like I was exploiting their hardship for my own gain even if I truly believe in the importance of revealing their terrible plight.  I am not sure what I should do?  Though I do feel the experience could teach me something I desperately need to learn, or perhaps the bravery of these embattled souls will help to rid me of some of the terrible cynicism that has started to erode what little optimism I have left for the future of this planet.  Though I am afraid that might be too much to hope for.

by Drew Cunningham - 09/06/2016

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